Pots and Pans...Just in Time for Christmas Giving

There are many choices when it comes to stovetop cooking pots and pans. Materials range from copper to aluminum to cast iron. Each material has unique qualities and reacts differently with the cooktop and the food.  The type of cooktop in your kitchen must be compatible with the pot. The type and thickness of the material affects its conductivity or speed that heat is dispersed through the pan to the food.  

Then consider the specific use for each pot. A skillet can be used with some steamers but is not suitable as a double boiler, for example. Let’s look at materials first.

Aluminum pans are good conductors of heat and are lightweight and easy to handle. Food should not be stored in aluminum because the chemical reaction will bring a change in colour and flavour. Many people also do not want to ingest aluminum due to health concerns.

Stainless steel pans are attractive but they are not good heat conductors and you will have hot spots resulting in uneven cooking. 

Cast iron pans conduct heat well and hold heat for a long period of time. If the pan has not been pre-seasoned when purchasing then it must be done before using. If not seasoned properly the pan will dry out and food will stick during cooking and it will rust. 

Season your new cast iron pan by cleaning first in warm soapy water. Dry thoroughly then rub with cooking oil on all sides. Place in a 325 F (175 C)  oven and bake for an hour. Turn off the oven and let it cool to room temperature. Your pan is ready. Many people say that you should never wash your pan in soapy water after using but I always do. I don’t scour it, however, and it still maintains its non-stick qualities. Re-season if food sticks to the pan.

Non-stick coatings on pans are great for cooking low-fat meals because they do not require any added oils. Be careful not to use any metal utensils or rough sponges on non-stick pans because the coating scratches very easily. There are concerns with the type of materials used to make the surface non-stick and toxins released during cooking. This is the time to buy the latest type of pan and not use the older non-stick versions. Also, don’t crank up the heat. Do not use cooking sprays because they produce a sticky film on the surface. Lastly do not put them in the dishwasher. After the pan cools wash in warm soapy water. These tips will ensure safe and long use of your pan.

Copper conducts heat better than any other metal used for cooking equipment. It is expensive, heavy and requires polishing because it tarnishes. Copper reacts with food and creates poisonous compounds so pots are usually lined with a metal like stainless steel. 

Most kitchens have simple saucepots for cooking potatoes and vegetables. A variety of sizes is a good idea. When cooking with a pot, match it to the size of the element or burner. You don’t want the heat source to be larger than the pot or the sides will be too hot and begin to burn the food inside. The heat source needs to be directly under the pot.

A stockpot is a deep pot with high, straight sides and two handles. It is best for making stocks or heating a large quantity of liquid. A saucepan is similar but shallower. The lower pot makes it easier to stir the food. 

Sauté pans or frying pans are shallow pans with one long handle and either straight sides or sloped sides.  The sloped sides make it easier to use a spatula and turn food over.

A seasoned cast iron skillet is a kitchen staple. Every kitchen should have one. They are very heavy and hold a nice even heat. They are great for frying. They also have some other uses, like baking cornbread or pineapple upside down cake. They can be used on the stovetop or in the oven. 

Enamelled cast-iron pots are great in that they have the same properties as a cast iron skillet. They are quite heavy and deep, usually round or oval in shape and come with two handles and a lid. These pots, also called Dutch ovens, are great for cooking hearty meals like stews, roasts and ragus. They are also useful for braising and simmering. The enamelled finish helps with easy clean up.

Double boilers are for preparing foods that cannot be held over direct heat. A double boiler consist of a two parts, a bottom pot that holds water and an upper pot that rests inside, over the steam and away from direct heat. When the water in the bottom pot begins to simmer or boil, the steam rises and heats the upper pot. Double boilers are key in warming delicate foods like custards and melting chocolate. The upper pot can be metal or ceramic.

Roasting pans are deep rectangular pans used mostly for roasting meat and poultry. Most often they are used with a rack to hold the meat so the entire piece of meat develops a caramelized exterior. The drippings are used to make sauces and gravies.

If you have purchased a specialty cooking pot check the instructions for use. For example, I have a clay Moroccan tagine that is designed for stovetop cooking. It is only to be used on a gas cooktop.

And finally, consider your type of cooktop. Gas is loved by most avid cooks because of the faster response when adjusting the heat. There is no warming up or cooling down time required. I find that it acts like increased counter space because when it is off I don’t have to remove the pot to stop the cooking process as I would with an electric cooktop.

Conduction or flat top ranges require pots with very flat bottoms. The warranty is also voided if you place too much weight on them. An example is preserving by the hot water bath method. Canners filled with water are too heavy for the surface and may damage it.

In summary, consider your type of cooktop and the cooking job when choosing the pot or pan. Good choices will make nicely prepared food.


Lamb Loin Chops with Farro Salad

I have been intrigued with farro since I had it in a salad back in the spring while I was in Kelowna. The grains have a slightly nutty flavour and when cooked al dente add nice texture to the meal. However, it isn't easy to find farro. When I was in the city I visited the health food store and found a few packages in the sale bin. I wish I had purchased more than one.

Farro is an ancient grain that is popular in the Mediterranean. Finding exact details is about as difficult as finding the grain itself. Most information tells me it is an ancient wheat. One source says that spelt, emmer and einkorn are called farro in Italy. The difference mainly is the size of the kernel. These three grains are considered farro. So don't be surprised if the farro you buy today is a little different from the farro you buy tomorrow.

I cook this like I cook all my grains and rice, in plenty of water. I cook until almost al dente, strain it and place a clean tea towel over so it can steam for awhile. I like a clean grain so if it is still a bit sticky, rinse under cold water, strain and let air dry.

The lamb loin chops are simply seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and seared in a pan with olive oil on both sides. Remove from pan and tent with foil for 10 minutes. Serve.

Farro Salad
1 cup farro
1/2 tomato, cubed
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup crumbled feta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tarragon wine vinegar

Cook farro as described above. When it is dry add the remainder of the ingredients and toss to coat. Serve.


Squash and Fire Roasted Tomato Soup with Quinoa

I love squash but in my opinion some of the long neck varieties lack flavour. That problem is fixed with this soup. My inspiration comes from African style Squash and Peanut Soups. In this recipe the flavours are nicely balanced so don't worry if you are not a fan of coriander or turmeric. They are not the star of the dish. I bet after a day in the refrigerator it will be even better. Because the squash is pureed there should be no problem freezing individual portions for future lunches.

Any type of diced tomato would work just fine but I happened to find a can of fire roasted tomatoes this morning in the grocery store. I like the look of the burnt bits. As an added bonus this recipe is vegetarian and vegan, since both those eating styles are popular in today's food world.

I am experimenting with some of my specialty spices but of course, substitute with what you have on hand.

Squash and Fire Roasted Tomato Soup with Quinoa

1 small squash, any variety
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 14 fluid ounce (398 mL) can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon coriander, crushed
1 teaspoon Aleppo turmeric
1/4 teaspoon piment d'esplette
1/4 teaspoon Vietnamese Saigon Cassia cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup mushroom stock
1 cup cooked chick peas
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup cooked quinoa
parsley for garnish

Grill or oven roast the squash until tender. Cool and remove seeds and skin. Puree pulp with a little water.

Saute onion in olive oil and butter until translucent. Add garlic and ginger. Saute for another minute. Add coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and piment d'esplette and saute until aromatic.

Add canned tomatoes and pureed squash. Heat to bubbling and keep at a simmer. Add peanut butter, honey, stock and chick peas. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for five minutes and remove from heat. Serve immediately and top with a generous scoop of quinoa. Garnish with parsley.


Roasted Chanterelle Mushrooms

Last evening I dug out the rug hooking I started when I visited Nova Scotia. My how time flies. That was in 2007. I can't believe so many years have passed since that epic road trip. It was the first car ride for my Himalayan cat, Miss Sugar. It took her all of the three weeks to acclimatize to living every day in a moving vehicle. At times she looked a tad car sick, poor thing.

Soon we will be driving to the other coast and on to Vancouver Island. By now she is a seasoned traveller and cozies up in her soft carrier on the seat beside me.

As Canadian Thanksgiving leftovers are but a fond memory our neighbours to the south are making preparations for their Thanksgiving dinners. It’s fun in the blogging world to celebrate feasts all over the world. What better excuse to cook beautiful food. This month our Cooking Light Supper Club is saluting one of our favourite herbs, thyme.

I am also highlighting a premium ingredient, Saskatchewan chanterelles. Mine come from the northern part of the province and I had the opportunity to chat with my forager, Elisabeth. I learned so much.

Wild chanterelles are the most coveted of mushrooms. They are delightfully aromatic, beautifully shaped and highly nutritious. They are picked from forests across the country between mid-July to mid-October but Saskatchewan chanterelles are special. 

“They are premium because they grow in a semi-arid climate. Saskatchewan chanterelles are dry, perfect round shapes, small size, clean, velvet touch, and the aroma is unbeatable. You don't need to see them but you can smell them when you walk into the forest,” boasts Elisabeth Poscher, professional forager and owner of Prairie Infusions out of Love, SK.

Areas with more rainfall produce large, water logged, floppy chanterelles. Saskatchewan chanterelles are small and dry, because it rains briefly then it's dry, so they come in a hurry and then stay dormant in that shape until it rains again briefly, then they grow a bit more. The drier the climate the more concentrated the chemical compounds in the plant. That is why their scent and flavour are so intense.

Poscher continues, “A customer in Toronto picked up her chanterelles at the airport and she phoned me immediately and said that she could smell them as she entered the building. She has never before seen this type of quality, ever.”
Roasted chanterelles are my side dish for this month's Virtual Supper Club. Thyme is the theme. It pairs perfectly with the earthy mushrooms. Let's see what else is on the table....

Sandi with Whistlestop Cafe is hosting this month's dinner. Her main course is Tacchino Arrosto con Sale e Pepe or in English Salt and Pepper Turkey. I'm sure we will find some thyme in there, too.

Val at More Than Burnt Toast whets our appetite with Flatbreads with Honey and Thyme.

Jerry at A Life Lived shares the appetizer course with Val and presents Pear Chutney Bruschetta with Pecans and Blue Cheese

Susan at The Spice Garden takes the next course with  Golden Winter Soup.

My side dish also features the beautiful chanterelle. The Roasted Chanterelles with Thyme can stand alone or be added to a risotto. I am bringing both.

Shelby at Grumpy's Honeybunch has the grand finale and is leaving thyme alone this time and bring the trending Texan Sheet Cake cupcakes for dessert

Roasted Chanterelle Mushrooms
Because my chanterelles are small I have left them whole to show off their beautiful shapes.
8 oz. rinsed and trimmed chanterelle mushrooms, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 thinly sliced peled shallot
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. melted butter
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
In a 12 x 15 inch baking pan, mix all ingredients. Bake in a 400 F oven, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender and beginning to brown on edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Use immediately or let stand until ready to use, up to four hours.
Chanterelle Mushroom Risotto


Bacon Wrapped Pork Medallions with Individual Pommes Anna

As I organize and make list after list for my upcoming drive to Victoria, BC (read 'seafood') I am still reminded by tummy growls that I must make food. I am a recovered hoarder and now check my freezer first before planning meals. I have a beautiful naturally raised pork tenderloin from Carmen Corner Meats in Waldheim, SK. And I still have market potatoes and carrots.

Rather than grill up the entire tenderloin as I usually do I decided to cut it into medallions and then pan grill. After making this recipe I have decided that it is a good one to make for a crowd. It is relatively inexpensive yet looks elegant. It can be prepped in advance and cooked all at once in a large pan. If I was catering this would be on my menu for sure.

Pommes Anna, obviously a French version of a potato dish, has been cropping up a lot lately. Ditto this for a crowd. I made mine in a muffin tin for an individual size serving but it could also be made in a pan and cut into squares for serving.

I like easy peasey recipes and have also been wanting to play with my piment d'esplette that I purchased back in the spring. Time flies, doesn't it. I have already kept it long enough. Ground spices and herbs have a shelf life of up to 2 years. Some say 12 months.

Piment d'esplette is the champagne of hot chiles in more way than one. It is a chili pepper that is cultivated in the Basque region of France in the Atlantic Pyrenees. These peppers were introduced from Mexico in the 16th century. Initially they were used medicinally but later became a staple in flavouring their food. Now it has AOC status. This is appellation d'origine de contrȏlée which translates to 'controlled designation of origin'. So you see, it is like champagne. Unless it comes from the Esplette region it cannot have this name.

What is so special about this chile, you say? It is only 4000 on the Scoville scale of heat so it isn't that hot but it is packed with flavour. It has a slightly smokey flavour. It has replaced black pepper in many Basque recipes.

Bacon Wrapped Pork Medallions

1 small pork tenderloin
8 - 10 slices bacon
sea salt
piment d'esplette

Remove tenderloin from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you will be cooking. Season generously with piment d'esplette and sea salt. Cut into medallions the thickness of the bacon slice.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Slowly sauté slices of bacon in a heavy grill pan or cast iron pan until browned but not crispy. If they are too crispy they won't wrap around the medallions. Wrap medallions with the bacon pieces and secure with a toothpick. Season both top and bottom of the medallion with more piment d'esplette and sea salt. It is a thick piece of meat and the seasoning has to compensate for that so be liberal.

Over medium heat in the same pan used for the bacon place the medallions flat side down and sauté until bottom is golden, about 3 or 4 minutes. Turn over and brown the other side. Place the pan in the oven and continue to cook until the meat is no longer pink in the centre. An internal temperature of 145 F is ideal. Remove from the oven and tent with foil until ready to serve.

Mini Pommes Anna

small potatoes
fresh thyme
sea salt

Peel potatoes and slice with a mandoline so they are almost transparent thin. I don't have a mandolin so I used my box grater. You know, that side you never use? It worked perfectly to make very thin slices.

Melt butter and brush each muffin tin with the butter. Place a round piece of parchment paper on the bottom of each muffin. Place a small sprig of thyme and then drizzle about half a teaspoon of butter in each cup.

Add minced garlic and more chopped thyme to the butter. 

If you are not immediately using the sliced potatoes put them in a bowl of cold water. If left in the air they may discolour. Before using, drain the water and dry the potatoes in a clean tea towel. Place in a bowl and drizzle with the seasoned butter and mix well.

Arrange the potato sliced in each muffin cup. Press down and fill as high as possible. It will wilt down during cooking. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake in 350 F oven for about 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until tender and nicely browned on the edges.


Perfect Old Fashioned Pancakes

Every once in a while I crave a simple pancake. Mostly I make the ultra nutritious type with a variety of whole grains and oatmeal and dried fruits. They are the best. But nothing beats an old fashioned pancake for brunch with a crowd gathered to watch something like the Calgary Stampede Parade. After a lifetime in the city I have become fond of the Stampede and the traditional pancake breakfasts. I have yet to gather my friends here in my new home for a pancake breakfast to watch the Parade.

These are much better than the chain pancake restaurant pancakes. They are not so salty or sweet. To get the crispy edges generously butter the pan before adding the batter. And bonus, you can stay in your pj's on this Fall Back Sunday. However, where I live we never change our clocks. This is my first year to confuse that. With all the advertising around turning the clock back I forgot that we don't do that. So sad. I didn't get my extra hour today.

This recipe makes more than I alone can eat for breakfast (or supper if I am so inclined). In the past I have always followed every other bloggers suggestion to cook them up and freeze them. Popping them in a toaster does not bring them back to life. They are stale and tough. This time I simply kept the extra batter in the refrigerator. It held up very well. Use within a couple of days for fresh light and fluffy pancakes just like the first day they were mixed.

These take five minutes to whip up and all the ingredients are usually in your kitchen. I have taken to making them for impromptu overnight guests. Serve with bacon or sausages, maple syrup, whipped cream and fresh fruit for a satisfying start to the day. I gently sauteed apples with chopped walnuts to serve with mine today.

Old Fashioned Pancakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Whisk to mix all ingredients. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth.
Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.